... How it all began :
In 2013, the German Region of AIIC worked with Memorium – the city museum in Nuremberg dedicated to the trials of Nazi war criminals – to organise a series of events about the origins of simultaneous interpreting, the development of conference interpreting as we know it today, interpreting in crisis zones and interpreting for international crime tribunals (Programme Memorium 2013). The first of these events, devoted to the “achievements of the pioneers”, included an exhibition based on the diligent research of the German AIIC members Barbara Besching (Berlin), Lilian-Astrid Geese (Berlin), Brigitte Graf-Bunz (Freiburg), Elke Limberger-Katsumi (Nürnberg), and Ulla Schneider (Bremen) (edited by Jürgen Reents). It described the lives of those who achieved an amazing breakthrough at the first Military Tribunal by applying the virtually unknown technique of simultaneous interpreting.
That first attempt to trace the destinies of these people, most of whom had themselves been victims of the Nazi regime in one form or another, demonstrated how little is actually known about them. It aroused tremendous interest, and so the research continued, and the exhibition has been expanded and updated.
... Past exhibitions :
... What's in the exhibition ?
The exhibition has meanwhile outgrown its first simple version with panels for hanging. The current version is very flexible and aesthetically appealing with multilingual panels that form stand-alone columns. There are 27 sets with interpreter CVs and portrait photo, if available, plus a few context panels. There are also visuals showing the equipment they used and the set-up they worked in. For two interpreters we have diaries given to us by relatives. There are also some decorative accessories, technical devices etc. Different focal themes can be selected, depending on the context or the occasion marked by the exhibition.
... What do we know?
Unfortunately not enough yet. Lawyers and historians have analysed the trials from every conceivable angle, but so far nobody has wasted much thought on the amazing feat of facilitating the proceedings in four languages. Simultaneous interpreting was still largely unknown as a technique back then, and the technical conditions were rudimentary.
The first detailed study was an undergraduate dissertation submitted in 1998 by Francesca Gaiba, The Origins of Simultaneous Interpreting. In her book, she gives personal details of some of the interpreters. Over the years, a few articles were published, not least by AIIC members, as well as two autobiographies (Ramler, Sonnenfeld). Information is scattered about the globe and hard to trace. We managed to contact the two surviving interpreters and the families of several more, who provided us with valuable input.
We still have numerous clues to follow up, but unfortunately it all takes a lot of time and money. By mid-2015 our little pool of volunteers had stumbled across their limits, so we decided to set up this association and place the project on a broader footing. We hope that with more financial resources and willing helpers, we will be able to dig deeper and pay our pioneers the tribute they deserve.
... What happens next ?
With the help of this association, we can build systematically on the information displayed on our panels, locate new exhibits and integrate more media. This will enable us to adapt the exhibition to different themes and enhance its value for different audiences.
We will work to identify opportunities, venues and target groups for the exhibition and partners who can organise events with us. By arranging a wide range of small, flexible exhibitions, we want to reach out to the broadest possible audience with insights into the origins of conference interpreting and the contribution the profession has made – both then and now – to international understanding.
In the pipeline:
Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften (ZHAW), Winterthur
L'École supérieure d'interprètes et de traducteurs (ESIT), Paris